Jusuf Nurkic

Trail Blazers Notes: Nurkic, Brown, Offseason Grade

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is optimistic about his role on the team after the hiring of Chauncey Billups as head coach, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Billups mentioned Nurkic during his introductory press conference, telling reporters, “I want to get more out of Nurk this year. He’s a weapon that most teams don’t have.” The new coach talked about installing an inside-out offense that will take advantage of Nurkic’s low-post scoring abilities as well as the team’s shooting prowess.

It was welcome news for Nurkic, who felt like his relationship with the organization was “fraying” after last season’s playoff loss to the Nuggets, Quick adds. Nurkic wasn’t happy with the way he was used by former coach Terry Stotts and was starting to doubt his future in Portland. He met with Billups after hearing his comments and believes things will be different this season.

“It’s not a question anymore whether I want to be here or not,” Nurkic said. “When the team hired Chauncey and I have a conversation with him and (assistant) Roy Rogers, there was no doubt. I’m 100 percent committed to Blazers.”

There’s more from Portland:

  • Nurkic has fully recovered from a left thumb injury he suffered in the playoffs, Quick adds in the same story. He hurt the thumb in Game 4 of the series and it continued to bother him into the summer. “I had that thumb thing to take care of, so I did a bunch of shooting to get my touch back,” Nurkic said.
  • Second-round pick Greg Brown is relying on veterans to teach him about the NBA, notes Casey Holdahl of NBA.com. Brown played alongside Michael Beasley, Kenneth Faried and Emmanuel Mudiay during Summer League and he continues to seek advice at the team’s practice facility as training camp nears. “We had Larry Nance Jr. come in, I’m excited to see how he thinks about the league, pick his brain,” Brown said. “(Damian Lillard) for sure, CJ (McCollum) for sure, (Nassir Little) — I’ve been knowing Nas since high school, see how his transition is. Everybody has their story and you can pick something from their story and put it in yours to help you move further.”
  • The Blazers’ offseason gets a C-plus grade from Zach Harper of the Athletic, who says the additions of Nance and Cody Zeller will help the interior defense, but he doesn’t see much improvement otherwise. Harper adds that questions about Lillard’s future will hang over the franchise until the situation is resolved.

Blazers Notes: Powell, Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic

Examining the Trail Blazers‘ plans going forward, Dan Devine of The Ringer suggests there are a few reasons for optimism in Portland. The team’s late-season addition of Norman Powell made an already strong offense even more potent, and the Blazers re-signed Powell to a long-term deal this summer. New head coach Chauncey Billups could also make an immediate impact and push the club harder on the defensive end, where improvement is necessary.

Still, Devine acknowledges that the Blazers didn’t exactly swing for the fences with their offseason moves, noting that there are a a lot of caveats and “maybes” in play when discussing their potential upside.

Here’s more out of Portland:

  • Asked during an Instagram Live appearance whether he intends to leave Portland, Lillard replied, I’m not leaving PDX. Not right now at least” (video link via Landon Buford). Those who believe Lillard wants to stay will likely focus on his assertion that he’s not going anywhere, while those who think he wants out will probably zero in on the “not right now” portion of his response. I wouldn’t read too much into it either way — it sounds like Lillard was supplying a fairly generic answer while leaving all his options open for the future.
  • Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report spoke to new NBPA president CJ McCollum about whether he believes the Blazers are capable of winning a title, teams’ free agency spending, and a handful of other topics. “I think whenever we step on the court, we have a chance to win a championship. If you don’t have that mindset and that mentality, then you shouldn’t play,” McCollum said of the Blazers. “… I feel like every year we have a chance to win a championship. But in the NBA, there’s so many things that go into that. You need a little bit of luck.”
  • In the latest HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozzlan discussed the Blazers’ offseason, with Scotto noting that president of basketball operations Neil Olshey is going “all-in” on Billups and will either “sink or swim” with that head coaching hire. Scotto also suggested that McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic need to step up and play some of their best basketball in 2021/22 to give Portland a chance to contend.

Blazers Notes: Billups, Olshey, Lillard, Nurkic, Collins

At the introductory press conference for new Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups on Tuesday, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey confirmed that the team conducted an independent investigation into the 1997 sexual assault allegations against Billups, and came away confident that he hadn’t engaged in any wrongdoing, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

Billups, meanwhile, said the ’97 incident had a major impact on him and shaped his decision-making going forward, per Jason Quick of The Athletic.

However, a Blazers PR person shut down further questions to Billups on how exactly the incident shaped him, and Olshey declined to provide any details on the team’s investigation, calling that information “proprietary” and asking reporters and fans to “take us at our word” that the investigation was thorough. As a result, there was no real sense of transparency in the presser, according to John Canzano of The Oregonian.

As Quick notes, Olshey and the franchise are essentially asking for trust and forgiveness for the way the coaching search played out and the decision the team made. While Quick believes Olshey has earned that trust to some extent, he adds that the veteran executive hasn’t made “a bigger ask” during his tenure with the team than this one, and that the clumsy hiring process has “created unrest for Billups, for (Damian) Lillard, and the fanbase.”

Here’s more out of Portland:

  • During Billups’ introductory presser, Olshey downplayed the idea that Lillard’s frustration with how the 2020/21 season played out will lead to a trade request this offseason. “Dame and I talk all the time,” Olshey said, per Quick. “And Dame’s happiness revolves around winning, and having a chance to win at the highest level. Chauncey is going to inherit that now, but the ultimate responsibility for that falls on me and my staff to put a team together that we can walk into the beginning of the season and think it has a chance to compete for a championship. So the shorter answer is it’s on me to make Dame happy. And the way to make Dame happy is to put the pieces around him to where he feels like he can win a championship.”
  • Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic said in an interview with a Bosnian outlet that he’d want to leave the team if Lillard is traded. Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian, using a translation tool, has the details on Nurkic’s comments. The big man previously cast some uncertainty on his future in Portland following the team’s postseason elimination.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype takes a look at which teams might be able to put together the strongest trade offers for Lillard should the All-NBA point guard decide he wants out of Portland.
  • Following a Tuesday report indicating Zach Collins has suffered another injury setback, the Blazers announced in a press release that the big man has undergone a second revision surgery to repair a left medial malleolus stress fracture and has been ruled out indefinitely. As we noted yesterday, Collins is eligible for restricted free agency, but seems increasingly unlikely to get a qualifying offer.

Blazers Rumors: Dame, Stotts, Nurkic, Powell, Jones

In the wake of Thursday’s loss to Denver, which eliminated the Trail Blazers from the postseason, Portland players appeared to sense that major changes could be coming this offseason, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Star point guard Damian Lillard suggested that the team would have to go “back to the drawing board” following its first-round exit.

“We didn’t win a championship, so obviously where we are now isn’t good enough,” Lillard said, noting that the Blazers couldn’t beat a Nuggets team that was missing starters Jamal Murray and Will Barton. “I don’t know what a shakeup looks like, or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as it is wasn’t good enough.”

As Quick writes, the future of head coach Terry Stotts will be one of the first issues the organization has to address. Stotts has one more guaranteed year on his contract, with a team option for 2022/23. However, multiple reports have indicated that Stotts is on the hot seat, and Portland’s showing in the playoffs likely didn’t help his cause.

According to Quick, the Blazers will go through exit interviews with players on Friday before making a call on Stotts, and may wait until next week to make their final decision. For his part, the Blazers’ head coach, who has led the team to eight straight playoff appearances, sounded prepared for any outcome.

“My job security? I’m under contract … I’m sure just like at the end of every year, we are all evaluated,” Stotts said. “The players, coaches, management, we are all evaluated. We will see what happens. At the end of the season, when you lose, everyone is evaluated. When we lost to New Orleans (in 2018), got swept by New Orleans, we were all evaluated. So we will see what happens.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • While he has long been committed to Portland, Lillard figures to draw plenty of leaguewide interest from teams curious to see if he’s becoming any more open to a change of scenery, Marc Berman of The New York Post writes. So far, there’s no indication that Lillard’s commitment to the franchise is wavering.
  • Jusuf Nurkic didn’t sound certain about his future in Portland after Thursday’s loss. The veteran center’s $12MM salary for 2021/22 is only partially guaranteed for $4MM, but a source tells Quick the Blazers plan to guarantee the remainder. Still, Nurkic said he would’ve liked to play a bigger role, and was cryptic when asked if he wanted to return. “In the right situation, yes,” Nurkic replied, per ESPN’s Royce Young. Asked what the right situation was, Nurkic said, “We’ll see. I don’t know yet. Because this is not it.”
  • The Blazers face a tricky decision on Norman Powell, who could command up to $20MM per year in free agency, Quick writes for The Athletic. Portland has interest in re-signing Powell, but it may not be practical to invest heavily in another guard if Lillard and CJ McCollum are still on the roster, since the star duo will earn $70MM+ in 2021/22 (and even more than that in future seasons).
  • Powell’s future and that of Derrick Jones will likely be tied – at least in part – to whether or not Stotts returns, since his usage of both players was questionable, Quick says. Jones may not be able to match his $9.7MM player option salary on the open market, but it’s unlikely that he’d want to return to play for a coach that didn’t seem to value him, Quick observes.

Northwest Notes: Conley, Gobert, Malone, Trail Blazers

Mike Conley turned in a vintage performance Saturday night in his first road playoff game at Memphis, writes Nick Friedell of ESPN. The veteran point guard made it a memorable homecoming with 27 points, eight assists and six rebounds as the Jazz pulled out a Game 3 victory.

Conley spent 12 years with the Grizzlies and was a fan favorite before being traded to Utah in 2019. This first-round series has him battling with second-year guard Ja Morant, who has become the new face of the franchise.

“It’s amazing to be playing against a guy like Ja, first off,” Conley said. “Just seeing a guy that’s so talented, he’s a young superstar in the league, wearing the jersey that I’m so used to wearing. Getting the cheers from the crowd that I’m so used to hearing. It’s surreal. It’s like full circle. You never thought that it would be this way. I never did, at least. It’s like sometimes you live long enough to become the villain, and I’ve become that for the Memphis Grizzlies now.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Rudy Gobert was thinking of Mark Eaton after Saturday’s win, according to Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Eaton, a former Jazz center and shot-blocking specialist, died Friday at age 64. “I know that if he was here I would have got a text after the game saying, ‘Way to protect the paint, big guy,’” Gobert said.
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone called out his team — and especially his starters — after a lopsided loss to Portland in Saturday’s Game 4, writes Royce Young of ESPN. With a chance to go up 3-1 in the series, Denver came out flat and never seriously challenged the Trail Blazers. The Nuggets’ starting unit was outscored 49-26 when it was on the floor and shot 30% from the field while Portland was making 65% of its shots. “Our starters were awful,” Malone said. “I thought we had some guys that were tentative, that looked a little scared, who played soft … we’re going to have to be a lot better going home.” He later added, “I can’t believe we’re actually talking about playing hard in a playoff game. That should be a given.”
  • With the Trail Blazers’ season hanging in the balance, Jusuf Nurkic and Norman Powell both came into Saturday’s game with something to prove, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. Nurkic was upset over disparaging comments about his defense, while Powell wanted to show he could be the difference maker Portland expected when it acquired him at the trade deadline.

Trail Blazers Notes: McCollum, Stotts, Lillard, Nurkic

Trail Blazers players won’t be thinking about saving coach Terry Stotts‘ job when they open their playoff series with the Nuggets tonight, CJ McCollum tells Jason Quick of The Athletic. Stotts is rumored to be among a handful of coaches who are in jeopardy if they suffer an early exit in the postseason. He has one year left on his current contract with a salary of more than $6MM.

McCollum made it clear that the players support Stotts, but there are other motivating factors.

“You have no control over those things,” he said. “I like Terry. Terry has been great for me, my career, my development, he’s given me a chance. I will forever be grateful for everything he has done for me. But your job as a player is to play. And his job as a coach is to coach. Like, you can’t worry about what could happen. That’s every year. Every year, I could be traded. Every year, a coach could lose his job. There is enough pressure to perform on its own.

“…  I don’t need any extra motivation to help Terry keep his job. I’m gonna go hoop and do what I do no matter what. And I think that’s Terry’s mentality. If something happens, Terry is OK. He’s gonna be all right, and he’s probably going to get another head coaching job.”

There’s more Trail Blazers news to pass along:

  • Damian Lillard discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic affected him and players in general in an in-depth interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic. He also addresses a recent column by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports calling for Portland to add more top-level talent during Lillard’s prime years. “People love to hear, ‘Oh, this guy might want out of here or out of there.’ I’ve constantly mentioned what my commitment to Portland is,” Lillard said. “I don’t think I need to keep going in on that. But over the course of a season, everybody gets frustrated, you know? And I’m not a person who fakes it for nobody. Not the media. Not my teammates. Not the fans. Not for nobody.”
  • The 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland helped the Nuggets and Blazers both improve, writes Kyle Fredrickson of The Denver Post. Portland needed an upgrade at center, and Nurkic had just lost his starting job to Nikola Jokic.
  • Zach Collins is the only player listed on the Trail Blazers’ injury report as the playoffs begin. Collins hasn’t played all season after undergoing surgery to fix a stress fracture in his ankle, but a recent story by Quick said the big man hasn’t given up hope of returning if Portland makes a long playoff run.

Jusuf Nurkic Ready To Return On Friday

The Trail Blazers made a splash on Thursday by agreeing to acquire Norman Powell from the Raptors. They’ll also add another key piece in-house, as center Jusuf Nurkic is ready to return from a lengthy absence. The big man tweets he’ll be in the lineup against the Magic on Friday.

Nurkic underwent surgery on January 19 to repair a fracture in his right wrist. He suffered his latest major injury against the Pacers while attempting to block a shot. He was cleared to play this week.

The 6’11” Nurkic missed nearly the entire 2019/20 season due to a major leg injury suffered late in the previous season. He’s averaging 9.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 2.8 APG in 12 games (23.3 MPG) this season. He enjoyed a career year, averaged 15.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG and 3.2 APG, in 2018/19 before fracturing his left leg.

Nurkic has a partially guaranteed base salary of $12MM next season. He’s guaranteed $4MM and the Trail Blazers will have to decide whether to give him a full guarantee this summer.

Enes Kanter, who is averaging 12.1 PPG and 11.6 RPG, will return to a second-unit role with Nurkic back in action.

Northwest Notes: Jazz, Blazers, Nurkic, Wolves

The Jazz still have an open spot on their 15-man roster and they’re likely to fill it sooner or later, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic. That could happen by Thursday’s deadline, but if Utah doesn’t add a player in a deadline deal, the team figures to scour the buyout market after March 25.

As for what type of player the Jazz may be targeting, league sources tell Jones that the club is in the market for a perimeter defender who could perhaps play 10-15 minutes against top perimeter scorers. Ideally, that player would also be able to knock down three-pointers, but there won’t be many solid three-and-D wings available for cheap on the trade market or in free agency.

The Jazz won’t be upset if they don’t find that player by Thursday, according to Jones, who says the club is happy with its current rotation and team chemistry.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Trail Blazers became the latest team to have many of their players receive the coronavirus vaccine. The team announced today in a press release that 13 players received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, having received access to an excess supply from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
  • Although Jusuf Nurkic remains sidelined for the Trail Blazers, the wrist he underwent surgery on in January has been cleared, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic, who notes (via Twitter) that Nurkic’s return is now being delayed by a right calf strain.
  • The Timberwolves will welcome fans back to the Target Center beginning on April 5 vs. Sacramento, the team announced in a press release. The club didn’t clarify exactly what the limited capacity will be in its arena for the rest of the season.

Haynes’ Latest: Davis, Nurkic, Thompson, Raptors, McGee

The Lakers announced on Friday that Anthony Davis would miss at least the next two weeks as he continues to recover from his right calf strain and tendinosis. However, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Davis is unlikely to return immediately after the end of that two-week timeline.

Sources tell Haynes that the Lakers’ star forward/center is expected to be out for the next three weeks, and potentially longer than that. Even if Los Angeles slips a little more in the standings without Davis in its lineup, the team wants to be cautious in its handling of one of its two superstars, Haynes writes.

Including the game in which Davis went down, the Lakers have lost seven of their last 11, but they’re still comfortably holding a playoff spot in the West — they’re the No. 3 seed, at 25-13.

Here’s more from Haynes:

  • Injured Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (wrist) plans on making his return in about two weeks, sources tell Yahoo Sports. CJ McCollum (foot) said over the weekend that he’s aiming to return this week, so Portland could get two key starters back in its lineup before the end of the month.
  • According to Haynes, Celtics center Tristan Thompson is a candidate to be moved prior to next Thursday’s trade deadline, with the Raptors among his possible landing spots. The Toronto native has long been linked to his hometown team, and while nothing has ever come of those rumors, a union would make more sense now that the Raptors are in the market for an upgrade at center.
  • Cavaliers center JaVale McGee – who has drawn interest from contenders, including the Nets – isn’t entertaining a buyout, so if he changes teams, it will be via trade, says Haynes. While Brooklyn may prefer his teammate Andre Drummond, McGee’s modest $4.2MM salary will make him easier to move in a deal.
  • We passed along a few more items from Haynes earlier today, including notes on DeMar DeRozan, John Wall, and Hassan Whiteside.

Blazers Rumors: Open Roster Spot, McCollum, Nurkic, More

The Trail Blazers have held their 15th roster spot open for the entire regular season so far, but hope to fill that spot in the coming weeks via the trade or buyout market, says Jason Quick of The Athletic. According to Quick, Portland will be looking to add a player who will “unquestionably be in the rotation for the remainder of the season.”

Quick cautions that the Blazers likely won’t make a major move like they did in 2017 when they acquired Jusuf Nurkic at the deadline — the goal will simply be to add a player who is more productive and/or reliable than back-of-the-rotation contributors such as Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, and Rodney Hood.

A wing who can shoot would be an ideal addition, according to Quick, who notes that Bulls forward Otto Porter is a player that Blazers president Neil Olshey has liked for a long time. Porter would only be a realistic target if he’s bought out.

If Portland can’t find a wing who can shoot, the club may shift its focus to addressing the backup point guard spot, per Quick. Simons has been handling that role for much of the year and has shot the ball well, but his ball-handling has been a little shaky.

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • The Blazers still haven’t set exact dates for their respective returns, but there’s a sense that CJ McCollum (foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (wrist) are days, not weeks, away from getting back on the court, according to Quick.
  • A source tells The Athletic that Portland isn’t considering signing big man DeMarcus Cousins, who reached the free agent market last month.
  • In addition to having an opening on their 15-man roster, the Blazers also have an open two-way contract slot. However, the club has no plans to fill that opening, since any two-way player would just be “a warm body” on the bench, says Quick.
  • The Blazers are about $1.8MM below the luxury tax line and are “adamant” about not crossing that threshold, which will be a factor in what trades they’re able to make and how much they’re willing to offer to players on the buyout market.